Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Your recent column (in the Tacoma News Tribune), ran an inquiry from Mr. Fred D. Pursley in Seminole, Florida, about the lyrics to “Hotel California,” by the Eagles.

The question concerned the line “warm smell of colitas rising up through the air,” and you replied that the mysterious “colitas” word is actually coleus, the plant.

I would like to know just where you got that information? You see, I have the album “Hotel California” which includes the song lyrics, and the word shown there is “colitas.”

Interestingly, I have never found this word in any dictionary or reference book I have consulted. Still, I doubt that it is meant to be “coleus,” because I have some familiarity with coleus plants, and they have no odor.

I too have been mystified by this word in the song, and the only possibilities I came up with were:

1. “Galleta,” which the dictionary says is “a coarse, tough forage grass used for hay and grazing in the southwestern United States.

2. “Goleta,” a small town near Santa Barbara. In either case, the “s” on the end would be a possessive, and the printed lyrics on the LP are therefore incorrect.

So, I am still wondering if “colitas” exist, and, if so, what are they.
—J. W. Teller (

DEAR J.W.: As to where I got the information, it came from one of those “Song Lyrics” sites — such as “Lyrics Server,” or the agonizingly slow loading “Lyrics World.”

Because of their showing of “coleus,” and Dr. Pursley's phonetic description of the word as being “coe-lee-tus,” it all made sense. Or so it seemed.

Of course they were wrong, as several other readers quickly pointed out. There is also a reason the word is not found in any our dictionaries. Read on:

DEAR JERRY: For awhile now I have followed your column and have learned countless things from you vast musical knowledge. That being the case, it is with pleasure that I take this opportunity to share something.

When you were asked about “Hotel California,” by the Eagles (the finest band America has ever produced, I might add), specifically the meaning of a mystery word, you stated that the word used is coleus. While interesting and entirely possible, this is incorrect.

Upon inspecting the CD liner notes for the “Hotel California” album, we find that the printed lyrics to the title song indicate this word to be “colitas.”

Noteworthy is that colitas has absolutely no meaning in the English language, though there is the intestinal infection which is spelled almost the same (colitis) and pronounced differently.

However, in Spanish, the word does have meaning. It translates as “little tails”, and refers to the tips of marijuana leaves, said to be the most potent part of the plant.

While this does not paint the most desirable picture of the Eagles it does not deduct from the brilliance they showed as musicians and showmen.
—Michael C. Phillips (

DEAR MICHAEL: Thus the value of keeping a Spanish dictionary handy. Now, if you don't mind one last letter on this burning topic:

DEAR JERRY: This E-mail just came in from Eagles management honcho, Irving Azoff:

In response to your recent inquiry, in 1976, during the writing of the song “Hotel California,” by Don Henley and Glenn Frey, the word “colitas” was translated for them by their Mexican-American road manager as “little buds.”

“Colitas is little tails, but here the author is referring to “colas,” the tip of a marijuana branch, where it is more potent and with more sap — said to be the best part of the leaves.”

We knew with an instant shock of certainty that this was the correct interpretation. The Eagles, with the prescience given only to true artists, were touting the virtues of high-quality industrial hemp!

And to think some people thought this song was about drugs.
—Dr.Steve Brown, Harrisonburg, Va. (

DEAR DR. BROWN: Thank you. Of course, everyone knows that Eagles do fly very high.

IZ ZAT SO? Looking at the Top 10 U.S. Groups for Singles Sales, the Eagles are on the outside looking in — from the No. 11 position.

Ahead of them we find: 1. Beach Boys. 2. Chicago. 3. 4 Seasons. 4. Jefferson Airplane/Starship. 5. Heart. 6. Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. 7. Tommy James and the Shondells. 8. Three Dog Night. 9. Huey Lewis and the News. 10. Journey.

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